Inching toward connection in Ruby Slippers Theatre’s Communion
Trapped in their own viewpoints, the three women in Daniel MacIvor’s Communion have a hell of a time communicating with one another. But they try. According to MacIvor, trying is the beautiful point: we all yearn for connection. On the phone from Toronto, he says, “The natural state of the human being is a kind of longing. In a way, we’re most alive when we’re in that place.”
Communion, which opens Ruby Slippers Theatre’s anniversary season (see sidebar), unfolds in three two-person scenes. The first is an excruciating—and often funny—encounter between Leda, who’s a recovering alcoholic, and Carolyn, her lesbian therapist. Leda is desperate for advice—especially about how to deal with her estranged daughter, Ann—and Carolyn is determined not to give it.
With Leda and Ann, in the second scene, there’s as much hostility as there is love. Ann is a fundamentalist Christian, who mocks Leda’s AA meetings, “where they tell you that God is a tree or something…a coffee cup”; Leda describes her daughter as someone who “hates fags and loves fetuses”. A drunk during most of Ann’s life, Leda was a disappointing mother—but Leda is dying.
In the third scene, Ann, who has unapologetically displayed her intolerance, shows up at Carolyn’s office.
According to MacIvor, as these characters inch toward honest connection, they’ve got to rid themselves of their notions of fixed identity and acceptable thought. In the playwright’s opinion, in the mother-daughter relationship, “Leda diagnoses the problem correctly when she says—or starts to say [of Ann’s fundamentalism], ‘I feel that Ann is doing this to me, that she’s making choices to punish me.’ But Leda’s program of recovery doesn’t allow her to think that way because that means she’s making herself the centre of the situation. But in fact she’s right: Annie did make these choices to punish her mother.” And that reactivity limits Ann: “Annie has made Leda her god in that all of her decisions are based on the relationship she has with Leda.” So what will happen to Ann when her mom dies?
Carolyn, who talks affectingly about her isolation, about trying “not to let the person in the bed know how utterly alone” she feels, is trapped within a therapeutic style. “The rules that she’s playing by are that she doesn’t speak until the patient speaks,” MacIvor explains. “She mirrors their bodies, she repeats back what they say, she tries as much as possible to only use language that’s initiated by the patient… Carolyn’s not good at this kind of therapy.”
Still, Communion is hopeful. “I do believe that the end of the play is the end of loneliness,” MacIvor offers. He should know; he’s familiar with the play’s terrain: MacIvor is gay, he’s been in recovery for six years, and he understands spiritual yearning. Raised Catholic, he quit that church at 19. He was a Quaker for a while, and for the past 10 years, he’s been engaged in a Vipassana Buddhist practice. Perhaps that’s where the emphasis on flux, the embrace of uncertainty in Communion, comes from.
“I think that if we’re looking for something definitive, we’re going to be thwarted,” he concludes. “The definitive is not the answer; there’s a fluidity to life.”